Are you working hard enough? (Trick question)

Consider these two situations:

A: You’re at work.

  1. You’re slogging through your usual 10-hour day answering phone calls and emails, trolling through paperwork, rushing to meetings… Are you working hard?
  2. You’ve been in your ‘flow zone’ for two hours of total, productive concentration. You feel energised and knock off early for a walk in the fresh air. Are you working hard?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to 1, you’re kidding yourself.

B. A joiner comes to re-hang a sliding door that sticks and is difficult to move.

  1. He gives it a tap and a whack and it’s in perfect working order. Be honest: Do you feel a bit cheated when you hand him his fee?
  2. The joiner toils and grunts and seems to work quite hard for quite a while before the door is in perfect working order. Do you feel his fee is worth it when you pay him?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to both 1 and 2 in situation B, you’ve fallen for the ‘labour illusion‘.

This same illusion leads people to answer ‘Yes’ to question 1 and ‘No’ to question 2 in situation A. We tend to equate effort, be it long hours or grunts, with hard work. But generally, what really counts is results, not time spent or sweat. The ‘labour illusion.’

When you apply the ‘labour illusion’ to your own work, you kid yourself that long hours and ‘busy’ (but non-productive) work are ‘real work’ and that you’re working hard.

And whether you’re a customer or a team leader, when someone else is working on your behalf, you probably like to see them putting in some effort. Most people prefer the ‘hard-working’ joiner to the expert, experienced joiner who completes a job quickly and proficiently. Many bosses would be rather miffed at a team member knocking off early, even though their work is done or they just cracked a difficult problem or made a break-through innovation. The ‘labour illusion.’ (Maybe that’s what’s at the core of toxic work cultures where you’re not committed and working hard enough when you go home on time?)

Even when the hours you or your team members put in are easier to measure than actual results, don’t let the ‘labour illusion’ fool you. It isn’t how tired you or they are at the end of the day that counts. Results count. (Of course, we aren’t talking about people learning a new job, here. That takes time and effort and results aren’t great straight away.)

Understanding the ‘labour illusion’ helps you to concentrate on what’s important, to do your best and to work as hard as you need to, in order to get the results. It teaches you to not kid yourself that busy work and long hours earn results.




How to avoid the most common communication mistakes

Last Friday, I posted twice. In the second post, Do you make any of these common writing mistakes? we reviewed four common mistakes people make when writing. Here are some other common communication mistakes of the non-written kind and how to avoid them.

The first is cowardice. Cowardice may mean taking the easy way out and delivering bad news by email rather than in person, or it might be avoiding difficult conversations. Think about the best way to deliver bad news so you can deliver it sensitively. That usually means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how they will hear your words. It doesn’t mean not telling the truth, but it does mean telling the truth with tact. And, almost always, in person.

When the bad news entails negative feedback, which I prefer to call constructive information or corrective information (the latter being a bit stronger and more directive), the art of providing clear, actionable information is important in our personal as well as our professional lives. So think through what you want to say and practice a bit first, even if only in your head.

Even when the news isn’t bad, you often need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When you want to provide some information or instructions or ask a favour, for instance, you’re going to have a better result when you think about it from the other person’s perspective. What does she already know and think about the issue? How can he use the information you’re providing? What’s currently going on in her life? What tack is most likely to motivate him? And so on.

When good communicators have the same message or request for four different people, they invariably give it in four different ways, each tailored to the individual they’re speaking with. Everyone has different needs, life experiences and backgrounds which you can take into account to communicate more successfully.

Another mistake is not being clear about your own motives. What’s your real purpose in communicating? What assumptions are you basing your communication on? What action do you hope for from the other person? When you realise you’re about to communicate based on frustration or anger, for instance, you know it’s time to zip your lips.

Bottom line: Effective communication is about thinking through how best to put your message across, and that means using your empathy and emotional intelligence.

Holding a difficult conversation

Wasting your breath, harming a relationship, fraying your own and other people’s tempers and nerves unnecessarily … Ah, those difficult conversations that we’d all rather do without.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t count when difficult conversations are involved. So that the discussion doesn’t start off on the wrong foot and go downhill from there, give some thought to the conversation beforehand. These four questions are especially helpful:

  1. What do I want the conversation to achieve and how do I want it to proceed?
  2. What, specifically, do I need the other person to understand and do as a result?
  3. How can I make my message palatable so the other person doesn’t tune out?
  4. How do I want the person to feel about me and my message once the conversation has ended?

When you are clear on those four questions, you can frame the discussion so that it proceeds cooperatively rather than confrontationally. Since the way you begin a conversation often determines how well people receive and accept your message, think carefully about your opening comments. You want them to guide the conversation towards the result you’re after.

Remember the WIFM factor (What’s In it For Me? factor) and include a WIFM as early as you can in the conversation, even in your opening comments. How will the other person benefit from acceding to your wishes?

Keep your words neutral, objective and positive. Those kind of words are more influential and persuasive than emotional, critical and negatively-loaded words and are much less likely to make the other person bristle. They also set a better ‘tone’ for the conversation.

One final word of advice: Without diminishing your meaning, keep your words as soft and sweet as you can in case you have to eat them!


Do you make any of these four common writing mistakes?

Whether in our work or personal lives, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we communicate more than any other activity. And we all know that the way we communicate speaks volumes about our character and our professionalism.

Whether you’re writing a email or a essay, speaking to someone in person or on the phone, or just chatting over a coffee, opportunities abound to upset someone, tarnish your reputation, or receive a lower mark than you’d hoped. Here are four common mistakes we’re all prone to when we write, whether it’s at work or study.

I think the first and biggest mistake a lot of people make is not reading over what they’ve written before hitting ‘Send’. And, unless you’re in a crowded office or the library, reading out loud is always better than reading silently. Reading what you’ve written out loud makes it easier to pick up mistakes in grammar and spelling, unnatural-sounding phrases and long, overly-complicated sentences. All those mistakes make you look, at best, careless. (And whatever you do, don’t rely solely on your computer’s spell chequer.)

Another big mistake is trying to sound like you’ve eaten the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The way you write should sound like the way you speak but with a bit better grammar and a more organised flow in term of thoughts and key points. And that really isn’t hard, since writing gives you time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Even when you’re writing a formal report or an essay and there’s a certain way to structure it, you can still write naturally.

When you write naturally, you avoid the next big mistake, which is writing passively. Passive writing always gets a big yawn and makes it sound like you’re trying to ‘fudge’ the truth. Here’s passive: ‘The moon was jumped over by the cow.’ Here’s active: ‘The cow jumped over the moon.’ Much better. Here’s how to fudge the truth: ‘Mistakes were made.’ Much better to own up to them: ‘I made a mistake and here’s what I’ve learned from it.’

There is sometimes a good reason to write (and speak, for that matter) in the passive, for instance, when you want to be tactful. But generally, try to stick to the active voice when you’re writing. The clue is, any time you see a form of the verb ‘to be’ (the moon was jumped over, mistakes were made), get rid of it to make your writing active.

The fourth and final big mistake is throwing your thoughts down willy-nilly instead of thinking through what you want to say. Aim for a logical, easy-to-follow flow so your reader can easily grasp your points. People won’t read what you’ve written when you make it too hard for them.

So there we go. Whether you’re writing for work or for your studies, you can easily avoid those four big mistakes.

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.